Alderman Stacks

Human Impact on the Environment

The impact or effect that humans have on the environment is, and has, been a topic of debate, concern and disagreement for years. Opinions range from those who argue that there is no climate change to a view that argues there is climate change but it is small and not the result of human activity to those who see the end of the world as imminent if we don’t change how humans impact resources and the climate. Studying the impact of humans is not just about climate change or global warming but can also include the depletion of resources, over-use of rare and non-renewable resources, potentially dangerous options like fracking, etc.

Exxon-Mobil Plant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (photo by Zach Wheat)

A quick review of what is on the internet quickly illustrates one aspect of the problem and the confusion. The following range of opinions can all be quickly found and they all present convincing arguments.

"As the world awaits the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) latest verdict on the state of the climate, new research out this year finds that climate change could have double the impact previously thought."- (From Guardian)

"Sixteen prominent scientists recently signed an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal expressing their belief that the theory of global warming is not supported by science. This has not been getting the attention it deserves because politicians (looking at you Al Gore) are frankly embarrassed to admit that they are wrong about the phenomenon known as global warming. Not only has our planet stopped warming, but we may be headed toward a vast cooling period." - (From

"Although there are many indications of animal populations and ecosystems changing because of pesticides, there are few studies proving the connection without a doubt," Köhler and Triebskorn say. - (From World News)

"Human activity has a major effect on the environment. The ecosystems and the planet as a whole have changed dramatically as a result of efforts to support the growing population. The humanity is more than ever threatened by its own actions because the natural resources are being depleted at an alarming rate, while the human activity is considered the number one cause of the global climate change which is the greatest challenge the human race has ever faced in history. And the scientists fear that the outcome cannot be good without immediate actions to reduce the human impact on the environment." - (From

"Human-caused environmental changes are creating regional combinations of environmental conditions that, within the next 50 to 100 years, may fall outside the envelope within which many of the terrestrial plants of a region evolved. These environmental modifications might become a greater cause of global species extinction than direct habitat destruction." - (From; From PNAS)

Through a range of different kinds of classes this Forum will help students think critically about the methods and theory behind understanding how humans impact the environment. Courses will focus on the past, the present and the future.


Rachel Most, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs and Professor of Archaeology

I currently serve as the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs in the College and as the Academic Dean for students in the sports of football and men and women's basketball. In addition, I teach archaeology classes in the Department of Anthropology. I frequently teach Human Impact on the Environment (with colleagues Hank Shugart and Steve Plog), Unearthing the Past (ANTH 2890) during January Term,Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (ANTH 4870/7870) and a summer class (ANTH 2589) in which I travel with students across Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado (this is team taught with a colleague from PVCC). I have also taught a USEM on the collapse of prehistoric and historic societies. My primary research interests are concerned with the study of change over time in prehistoric economic and settlement systems. I am particularly interested in the impact of the adoption of agricultural strategies by foraging societies, the role of hunting in emergent complex societies, lithic analysis and the so-called "collapse" of prehistoric societies. My field research has been primarily in the American Southwest (where I worked in the Mogollon Rim area (Pinedale/Snowflake) and southern desert areas of Arizona); I have also done fieldwork in Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

Steve Plog, David A. Harrison Professor of Archaeology

My research focuses on culture change in the prehistoric American Southwest, particularly the changing nature of ritual and social organization from approximately A.D. 800 to the present. My recent focus has been on the Chaco Canyon region of northwestern New Mexico, perhaps the most important center of the Pueblo world in the 11th and 12th centuries. I address what I believe are key aspects of organization, ritual and cosmology during the Chacoan era. More specifically, some of my recent research has explored the application of "house theory" to our understanding of change and organization in the Southwest.

Another significant focus has been a cooperative effort with several other scholars—assisted by the financial support of the Andrew Mellon Foundation and a partnership with University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities—to create an online digital archive for Chaco Canyon ( Our goal has been to enhance testing of hypotheses by increasing access to much of the unpublished excavation data from such settlements as Pueblo Bonito, particularly the important early fieldwork of the Hyde Exploring Expedition (1896-1900), the National Geographic Society Expedition (1920-1927), and the University of New Mexico field school in the 1930s and 1940s. Through a relational database, we provide access to room and kiva-specific information on ca. a dozen sites and access to over 17,000 images and almost two thousand unpublished manuscripts, field notes, accession catalogs, etc.

Hank Shugart, W.W. Corcoran Professor of Natural History, Department of Environmental Sciences

I have been the W.W. Corcoran Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia since 1984 and was given a joint appointment in the Department of Biology in 2000.  My research focuses on computer modeling of forest ecosystems, the global carbon budget and large-scale climate change. The pursuit of topics on how climate change might affect forests and vice versa has taken me to work in African, Asian, Australian, European, and North American forests. I apply of mathematical models that compute the growth, birth and death of each tree on collections small forest plots distributed over a landscape. These simulations describe changes in forest structure and composition over time, in response to perturbations including different climates. The models are applied at spatial scales ranging in size from small forest patches to entire landscapes to entire continents.

In the course of the doing of all this, my research programs have produced twenty-four Masters students, fifty-three Ph.D. students and twenty Post-Doctoral Associates — along with a baker’s dozen book and several hundred papers.  That said, I am as excited about teaching this Forum class with my anthropology colleagues as anything I have undertaken.  Sharing interdisciplinary learning excites creativity.  My love for sharing ideas across generations and cultures brought me to be a college professor.  This Forum program is part of that intellectual journey.

Navigating the Forum

In the first semester (Fall ’16), you will enroll in FORU 1500: Introduction Human Impact and the Environment. Team-taught by Hank Shugart, Rachel Most, and Steve Polg, the course provides introductory lectures and workshops regarding the impact or effect that humans have on the environment.

In the fourth and final semester (Spring ’18) you will enroll in FORU 2500: Capstone Seminar. The capstone will incorporate lectures and workshops at an intermediate level both in intellectual challenge and application of skills.

In addition, over the course of the two years you will choose and enroll in additional courses (totaling 25-27 credits) that relate to Human Impact and the Environment. The courses (see Coursework below) will ask you to think critically about the methods and theory behind understanding how humans impact the environment.


Core Required Courses (6 Credits)

FORU 1500: Introduction to Human Impact on the Environment (Fall 2016)
Instructors: Most, Plog & Shugart

FORU 1510: Continuning the Forum (1 credit) (Spring and Fall 2017)
Instructors: Most, Plog & Shugart

FORU 2500: Capstone Seminar (Spring 2018)
Instructor: Most, Plog & Shugart

Electives (25-27 Credits)

Category 1 - Select 2 of the following classes from two departments (6 credits)

  • ARH 1020 History of World Architecture & Urbanism, 1400-present
  • ENAM 3559 America and the Global South (only this topic)
  • ENLT 2530 Globalization & World Literature
  • HIEU 2001 Western Civilization I
  • HIEU 2002 Western Civilization II
  • HIST 2002 The Modern World: Global History Since 1760
  • HIST 2050 World History
  • HIST 2062 Global Environmental History
  • HIST 3112 Ecology and Globalization in the Age of European Expansion
  • HIST 3162 War and Society in the Twentieth Century
  • HIUS 2001 American History to 1865
  • HIUS 2002 American History Since 1865
  • HIUS 2711 American Environmental History
  • HIST 1000T
  • PHIL 2450 Philosophy of Science
  • RELG 2210 Religion Ethics and the Environment
  • SAST 1600 India in Global Perspective

Category 2 - Select 3 of the following classes from two departments (9 credits)

  • AAS 3240 Plantations in Africa and the Americas
  • ANTH 1050 Anthropology of Globalization
  • ANTH 2375 Disaster
  • ANTH 2589 Environmental Archaeology (this topic only)
  • ANTH 2820 The Emergence of States and Cities
  • ANTH 2890 Unearthing the Past
  • ANTH 3240 Anthropology of Food
  • ANTH 3260 Globalization and Development
  • ANTH 3340 Ecology & Society: An Intro to the new Ecological Anthro
  • GDS 1100 Useful Knowledge in the Local & Global Community
  • GSGS 3030 Global Cultural Studies
  • GSVS 2050 Sustainable Energy Systems
  • GSVS 2150 Global Sustainability
  • GSVS 3559 Water Worlds/War (this topic only)
  • MESA 3559 The Environment of the Middle East & South Asia (this topic only; not all 3559 classes)
  • PLAP 3160 Politics of Food
  • PLAP/EVSC 2030 Politics, Science, & Values: An Intro to Environmental Policy
  • PLCP 3012 The Politics of Developing Areas
  • PLIR 1558 Topics in Global Studies (Globalization)
  • PLIR 1558 Topics in Global Studies (World Regional Geography)
  • SOC 2559 Environment and Society (this topic only; not all 2559 classes)

Category 3 - Select one class and associate lab (4 Credits)

  • EVSC 2800 & 2801 Fundamentals of Geology
  • EVSC 3200 & 3201 Fundamentals of Ecology
  • EVSC 3300 & 3301 Atmosphere and Weather
  • EVSC 3600 & 3601 Physical Hydrology

Category 4 - Select one class and associate lab/discussion (not all of the classes below have a required lab)  (3-4 credits)

  • BIOL 2100 Intro Biology: Cell and Genetics
  • BIOL 2200 Intro Biology: Organ & Evol. Biology
  • CHEM 1410 Intro College Chemistry*
  • PHYS 1425/1429 OR 2010 General or Intro Physics
  • EVSC 1010 Introduction to Environmental Sciences
  • EVSC 1080 Resources and the Environment
  • EVSC 1300 Earth's Weather and Climate
  • EVSC 1450 Climate Change, You, and Co2
  • EVSC 2010 Materials That Shape Civilizations
  • EVSC 2050 Introduction to Oceanography
  • EVSC 2200 Plants, People and Culture
  • EVSC 3880 Watersheds of Lewis and Clark

* or higher

Category 5 - Select one of the following math or statistics classes (3-4 credits)

  • MATH 1210, 1220, 1310, 1320, OR 2310 Calculus I, II, or III
  • STAT 2020, 2120, 2720, 3080 Statistics (various)

Required Summer 2016 Reading

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. (W.W. Norton, London; 1999)